When you own a pan Asian restaurant, certainly one of the great perks is getting to do research. You can’t help but be envious of Braden and Yasmin Wages, who take vacations from Dallas to fly to Vietnam and Thailand in order to conjure up new recipes for their Uptown eatery, Malai Thai-Vietnamese Kitchen. The research includes tailoring monthly special menus — so-called chef’s tasting menus ($58) — to highlight what trends in Asian flavors capture them at the moment. The current menu, which remains up throughout July, is worth a taste investigation.
Some dishes on the five-course tasting are stronger than others, but certainly the strongest includes the scallops, served on the half-shell and dusted in crumbled peanuts and scallions. A delightful execution on its own, but on the side, the finish that elevates the dish is a Red Boat nuoc mam, a fermented anchovy sauce that warms on the palate slowly but inevitably. It raises the bar on the meal, presenting the flavor of anchovy in a way that will win over skeptics.
That’s true of the next dish as well. I’ve never been a huge sardine lover, but having tasted the sour sardine salad roll here, I’m beginning to regret that judgment. Wrapped a la Vietnamese spring rolls in a translucent, spongy rice paper, the lime-cured sardine filets poke through muscularly, but once more, the details complete it. Spicy Red Boat sauce and peanuts and both impart savory and soothing, earthy components without overwhelming shock of fishiness you often get sardines.
One of my favorite Asian flavors is tamarind, which is put to excellent but subtle use in the sticky rice crostini. A melange of duck and shrimp, the carrot-Thai basil-cilantro-mint salad is a pop of freshness, deriving heat from house-made sriracha and the faint tamarind drizzle.
Unfortunately, tamarind works against what should be the centerpiece dish — wok-cooked blue crab in a tamarind glaze. Texans are used to getting their fingers sticky from barbecue, but this is on the messy side even for a smoke house, and not wholly worth the effort: The whole crab is light on discoverable meat and it’s more frustrating that satisfying to struggle with it. Luckily, that disappointment is overcome with a platter of interesting tropical fruits — lychee, dragonfruit and countless more with astonishing textures, plys a palm caramel. The platter makes for a spectacular and refreshing dessert.
Wine pairs surprisingly well with Southeast Asian cuisine, and all the tastings come with optional wine pairing; take advantage of it, as the ones are well curated to accompany the dishes. Even on their own, though, the meal transports you.
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